Rosner: Chamber Music

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The musical language of the New York-based Arnold Rosner (1945-2013) clothes the modal harmony and rhythm of pre-Baroque polyphony in rich Romantic colors. This combination...

The musical language of the New York-based Arnold Rosner (1945-2013) clothes the modal harmony and rhythm of pre-Baroque polyphony in rich Romantic colors. This combination produces a style that is instantly recognizable and immediatley appealing. These four chamber works embrace a wide range of emotions, from tragic nobility to buoyant good humor, with Rosner's use of modality adding a hint of the Orient. All these pieces are receiving their first recordings, and many of the performers were personally acquaitned with the composer. A former member of the New World String Quartet, Curtis Macomber has performed across the United States, playing in hundreds of premieres, commissions and first recordings of solo violin and chamber works by major composers. The cellist Maxine Neuman, on the faculty at the New York School for Strings and Hoff-Barthelson Music School, was a friend of Arnold rosner for almost 50 years and gave the first performance of his Cello Sonata No. 1. The bassoonist David Richmond, a member of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra in Florida, has performed with orchestras throughout New England and now spends increasing time in Nairobi, introducing young Kenyans to the bassoon. Margaret Kampmeier, who teaches at Princeton Univeristy and the Manhattan School of Music, performs regularly with the ORchestra of St. Luke's, the New York Philharmonic, American Composers' Orchestra and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Carson Cooman is a pianist and organist, and is also a composer whose catalogue numbers more than a thousand works. Arnodl Rosner chose him to be the curator of his musical archive.


The four works on this disc represent over 40 years of Rosner’s half-century career. The Violin Sonata, originally written when Rosner was 18 and subtly revised 10 years before his death, is cast in the traditional fast-slow-fast mold. The first movement is delightfully high-spirited, with a catchy first theme made up of a rising sequence of descending scales. There are moments of lyricism and contemplation throughout the development, after which the swirling interplay of thematic elements rushes to a stirring conclusion. The second movement is heartrending in its fine-spun melody and solemn accompaniment. The central section features a repeated pattern of high bell-like tones. The final movement is a hectic, fierce tarantella, guaranteed to get the blood pumping. Walter Simmons’s superb program notes indicate that Rosner’s revision of this sonata was purely a matter of “developing [thematic materials] more subtly and sophisticatedly” rather than of altering the character of the work. The sonata’s musical materials are impressively mature and clearly retained Rosner’s interest over the course of his long career. It’s an ideal introduction to both the young and the seasoned Rosner for those who have not yet heard his work. Both the violin and the piano playing are extremely strong: free and expressive in lyrical passages, punchy and precise in more rhythmic passages. The balance is shifted just a bit more toward the violin than I find ideal, and we miss some of the imitative interplay between the instruments (this holds true for the remaining duo works as well), but the sound quality is otherwise a warm and faithful representation of a concert experience.

The Danses à la mode are four brief pieces for solo cello, evoking (respectively) Greek dances, the raga of India, the sarabande, and Scandinavian dance music. The first two dances feature double-stop drones. Frequent mordents in the first suggest vocal ornamentation. Portamentos and the interplay of melody above and below the drone in the second suggest sitar gestures. Rosner’s Sarabande, which I find to be extremely beautiful, features a lyrical minor-mode melody and a central section of pizzicato triple-stops. The final dance is a rapid whirl of register exchanges and gruff low notes. The suite as a whole is a virtuoso tour de force, and Maxine Neuman handles its demands with utter aplomb and consummate musicianship.

The Bassoon Sonata, composed in 2006, is the latest work on the program. It is largely contemplative and somber. A searchingly expressive bassoon solo of ambiguous tonality begins the piece, eventually merging with the piano to form a minor triad. The movement’s stateliness, its inexorable intensification of despair as piano and bassoon exchange ideas, and its conclusion of quiet resignation bear a family resemblance to some of Peter Mennin’s slow movements, though Rosner’s harmonic palette diverges considerably from Mennin’s far harsher language. The piano and bassoon trade a rising and falling triple-meter motif throughout the brisk second movement. Of particular interest is the contrast between the pedaled open-sonority accompaniment and the unpedaled thematic material. The final movement seems to begin like the first, with a searching bassoon solo; this soon reveals itself to be the subject of a canon, however, answered precisely by the piano’s entrance. It builds quickly to a darkly emphatic statement. The grim outlook of the first movement pervades this movement as well, though its ebbs and flows are periodic rather than overarching. The canon is revisited toward the end of the movement, its first entrances now both in the piano. The effect is not as attractive as the initial duo, but the entrance of the bassoon leads to an extremely poignant ending, emphasizing a conflict between major and minor triads. Again, both instrumentalists do the piece exceptional justice from both a technical and emotional standpoint.

At over 21 minutes and with a particularly intricate formal structure to its first movement, the Cello Sonata is the most ambitious work on the recording. An outraged, plaintive character prevails throughout the first movement. The cello tumbles from screaming high notes in cascades of rhapsodic scales. The piano accompanies with declamatory material (again, a bit too far in the background). There is some kinship with the string writing of Ernest Bloch, though Rosner’s voice is very much his own. The second movement alternates between a brooding melody (first in the cello, then in the piano) accompanied by open fifths (first in the piano, then in the cello) and sudden, brief, sprightly dances. The effect is of a repeated jolt between emotional poles of solemnity and celebration. The final movement is propulsive and joyous. The brief melodic motifs are very prominent, almost to the point of obsessiveness. Quiet episodes provide brief moments of repose in the general atmosphere of celebration.

This recording is a must-have for anyone who appreciates traditionalist contemporary music and for anyone who appreciates the musical values of the pre-Baroque. Also, and most important, it’s deeply gratifying on an emotional level.

-- Fanfare (Myron Silberstein)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: July 07, 2017

  • UPC: 5060113444080

  • Catalog Number: TOCC0408

  • Label: Toccata Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century, Contemporary

  • Composer: Arnold Rosner

  • Performer: Carson P. Cooman, Curtis Macomber, David Richmond, Margaret Kampmeier, Maxine Neuman